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7 Super-Scary Fundraising Myths for Halloween

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I’m not one of those people who likes to be scared. I avoid horror movies. And the only things I really like about Halloween are the kids in funny costumes. And the candy.

But it’s that time of year, so here are seven really scary fundraising myths.

They can lead to death-spiralling fundraising programs. And wrecked careers.

So get your security blanket … and read these if you dare!

Scary Myth #1: Direct mail is dead.

Okay, there’s no question that direct mail is more difficult than it used to be. Costs are higher. Response is down for most of us.

But dead?

Let’s just say if direct mail were a cat, it would still have another 7 or 8 lives to go.

Want some facts about the continued life of direct mail? Try these:

  • In the US, the mail is the largest source of charitable donations.
  • Direct mail is better at retaining donors than digital channels.
  • Direct mail is by far the top source of donors who eventually become major donors. Typically more than 90% of major donors start as “ordinary” direct mail donors.
  • Direct mail is the top driver of online giving.

The “direct mail is dead” crowd usually start with their own sense of how they respond to it: I don’t respond to direct mail. Therefor neither does anyone else!

That’s terrifying thinking!

Scary Myth #2: If we ask too much, we’ll lose our donors.

This scary myth seems true — unless you have the facts. It comes from making a series of assumptions:

Getting all that mail must be annoying! Surely asking more just annoys people more. If we send one more piece, our donors will reach their breaking point and leave us en masse!

But it’s not true. There’s a very simple rule: Ask more, and you’ll receive more.

Here’s the surprising truth: The more recently a donor has given, the more likely she is to give now. Let that sink in. It tells us that there isn’t some kind of bad feeling that gets deposited every time you contact a donor. In fact, study after study shows that when you increase the number of contacts with donors, they give more often. And retention improves.

That’s not to say you should start mailing a hundred appeals a year. That would be a mistake. And it would make you and your co-workers miserable.

But far more organizations are damaged by under-contacting their donors than by overdoing it!

Scary Myth #3: We must not mail our major donors!

Some fundraisers think of direct mail as a low-end, tacky, undignified way to raise funds. As a result, they assume that donors — especially major donors — also think that way. So they make the blanket decision to stop sending mail to their best donors.


Expensive mistake. For three reasons:

  1. Most of your major donors became major donors because direct mail works for them. When you stop connecting with them this way, you are turning off the most proven way to motivate them!
  2. Many major donors who are getting direct relational fundraising continue to give through direct mail.
  3. Many major donors don’t want the in-person relationship. They want to interact via direct mail! Stop mailing, and they stop giving!

The only time you should not send a high-end donor direct mail is when they specifically as you to do so. Or when you’re at a place in a personal conversation where a DM piece might be an off-target distraction.

Deciding for them that direct mail is no good for them is not only presumptuous and disrespectful, it’s expensive. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen this decision lead quickly to steep drops in revenue.

Scary Myth #4: Our donors will be offended if we talk about leaving us a gift in their Will.

Talking about Wills is not a scary discussion about death. It’s a rewarding affirmation of life. When you handle it right, donors are thankful to be drawn into the conversation about what matters most to them.

And when you talk about Wills, donors put you in theirs! And that means a lot of revenue for years to come.

Scary Myth #5: It’s time to switch over to a younger generation of donors.

If you’re like most fundraisers, your donors are quite old. Many are at an age where they’re “dying off.”

So, the myth goes, we should give up on those old people and start raising funds with much, much younger people who will be with us for a long time!



Here’s the painful truth about those wonderful young donors.

  • It costs more to find them and get a donation from them than it does older people. Quite a lot more.
  • Their retention numbers are much, much lower than that of older donors.
  • Their overall giving is a fraction of that of older donors.

That is, they’re harder to get, even harder to keep, and are less valuable while they’re with you.

There is one group of younger donors you should be all over: People between 45 and 65. People who are almost old. That’s the group that will “replace” the dying older generations.

Scary Myth #6: We’re hurting because of donor fatigue.

You’ve heard this before: Donors are just tired out by all that compassion and changing the world. That’s why we’re raising less money! Donor fatigue!

“Donor fatigue” is really fundraiser fatigue.

We get tired of sending out the same messages over and over again. We get so bored of it, we assume donors must be tired of it too.

There’s little evidence of that.

When you make your fundraising about the donor (not about your organization) … when you tell stories instead of cite statistics … when you make sure donors know how important they are to the cause … you will never meet anything you could call donor fatigue.

Scary Myth #7: We need to help donors understand our mission.

When you try to educate people into giving, they don’t give. And they don’t become more educated.

There’s a simple reason why: Most people, most of the time, have no interest in becoming more educated about your cause. You’re wasting your time, and theirs, if you try to hammer into them something they don’t care about.

People give for emotional reasons, not because of facts they accumulate.

Donors give when you help them care enough about your cause. Not when you give them more information about the cause.

Want to equip yourself to overcome the scary myths that hurt fundraising? Join The Fundraisingology Lab — for the world’s best fundraising training and the coolest community of smart, big hearted fundraisers you’ll love to hang out with. Find out more here.

Related post: 8 Secrets of Fundraising Ninjas


  • Jeff Brooks

    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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